As speculation was swirling over conference expansion in April at the BCS meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., Big East Commissioner John Marinatto asked Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe what he would call his league if it lost two members as was perceived possible.
"The Big Ten," Beebe joked.
The gallows humor became a reality Friday, when Nebraska deserted the Big 12 for the Big Ten a day after Colorado left for the Pac-10, making for a mess of misnomers in conference tags with an 11-member Pac-10, a 12-member Big Ten and a 10-member Big 12 -- for the moment, anyway.
And the numbers game is looking increasingly pessimistic for Missouri, which now is dependent on Texas -- the conference jewel with which Missouri has had philosophical issues -- for the sustained viability of the Big 12.
If Texas leads Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and perhaps Texas A&M with it to the Pac-10, as now is being widely reported by media in Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 probably would dissolve and MU could be left to fend for a hazy new affiliation along with league brethren Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. Texas A&M is also said to be looking at moving to the SEC.
Nebraska's departure came with an extra kick in the gut to Mizzou, with Nebraska President Harvey Perlman suggesting during a news conference that Missouri had a part in triggering its departure.
After the Big Ten announced it would study expansion in December, Perlman said, "We saw reports that Missouri would want to go to the Big Ten, including a statement by their governor, a member of (the) board of curators and chancellor -- comments that weren't clearly supportive of the Big 12."
Speaking broadly about insinuations that MU engaged the avalanche, MU athletics director Mike Alden called the idea "silly" and "ridiculous," and said MU has had its focus on strengthening itself and the Big 12 all along.
Still, Mizzou had complained about such issues as the Big 12's lack of equitable revenue sharing and had been open to listening to the Big Ten at least as a matter of due diligence.
Now, even as MU officials continued to evade questions about whether the school had been extended an overture from the Big Ten, the case that they haven't was amplified during a conference call with Beebe late Friday afternoon.
Beebe said that when Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany called him Friday morning to tell him Nebraska had been invited into the Big Ten, Delany also told him no other Big 12 schools were in the Big Ten's plans.
"My understanding is there isn't any other conference institution being considered by the Big Ten," Beebe said.
Then again, while Beebe understood Nebraska's departure was imminent in the last few days, he was surprised that Friday was the first direct statement of that by Delany, who has said repeatedly he would give fair notice.
And hours after concluding two days of meetings Friday, the Missouri Board of Curators announced a special Sunday night meeting. No further information was made available, and attempts to clarify the topic were unsuccessful.
Earlier in the day, Missouri President Gary Forsee and Alden tried to ease concerns about MU being left stranded.
"I would say it's a nine-inning game," Forsee said before the curators entered a closed session with Alden, adding, "And whether we're in the bottom of the first inning or the bottom of the ninth, the speculation has been running away -- for the last seven months."
He called Missouri "well-positioned" in the landscape and added, "I can't imagine being any better prepared or being any more action-oriented than the University of Missouri has been. We have stayed on top of these national developments and discussion about conference realignment since it surfaced last year."
But Alden said the scene is so "fluid," it seems to change "by the minute," and board Chairwoman Judith Haggard added: "I'm not sure what's true and what isn't. My TV was broken last night, and I think that was a good thing."
Alden acknowledged the "angst" MU fans and alumni might be feeling but tried to convey a message of "be patient and trust us."
"I hope they come back to who we are, who we are as an institution," he said.
He said MU was working "aggressively and diligently" on all it could control. Yet plenty seems beyond MU's control, most notably Texas, whose regents are scheduled to meet Tuesday to address its athletics future.
"They are a huge part of who we are," Alden said. "They have brought tremendous strength to our league. ... To keep moving forward, Texas is really important to what we're trying to do."
That was among the reasons MU's call for calm and patience might be hard to heed.
"This is kind of uncharted waters for everybody throughout the country right now," Alden said. "So I really think to be able to respond definitively and say, 'Hey, we should be able to know (the future conference affiliation) by this time or that time,' I think it would be inappropriate. ...
"Probably it would actually even be irresponsible. Because I don't think anyone knows."
© 2010, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.